The Brooklyn-based writer Caleb Crain is the author of “The Early Literature of New York’s Moneyed Class,” a chapter in our Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York that looks at narratives of New York high life from the mid to late nineteenth century. He is also the author of the 2001 book American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nation (Yale UP) and a frequent contributor to such publications as The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, The Nation, the New York Times Book Review, and The New Republic. He maintains the weblog Steamboats Are Ruining Everything, from which he has selected a number of pieces in the print volume The Wreck of the Henry Clay (2009).
Caleb’s piece for the companion could alternatively been called “High Life, with a Glance at the Low,” since he includes a significant treatment of the sunshine/shadow dynamic that structured many accounts of nineteenth-century New York City. But as fascinating as the lower depths were to armchair slummers in the nineteenth century, readers then as now also loved to peek into the world of New York’s elite. Of the insider expert and literary celebrity Nathaniel Parker Willis, Crain writes:
Fashion was Nathaniel